A city and its architecture

Ah! This love-hate relationship towards Bangalore has led to write yet another one. I was travelling by metro the other day, (cribbing on that travel itself is here). I was also cursing on why did they make an overground metro train. Everyone who swears by Bangalore as a lovely city detests the ugliness of the above ground metro; in the MG Road section for instance.

Deccan Herald article on MG Road before and after the ginormous concrete piling

So, why are metros being built over ground?

Well, rough estimates say that the cost of an elevated metro is less than ~2.8 times cost of an underground one. The cost factor, and thus the time for construction usually trumps any argument that you could come up with. Some may also argue that underground metro is more susceptible to disasters such as earthquakes, or terrorism or anything that may require quick mass evacuation. However, I do not agree to any of that.

Firstly, evacuation is quite a problematic scenario even on any poorly planned elevated rails. And secondly, the usual cost estimates of elevated construction do not consider the revenue lost due to road closures, diversions, and scalability and vision. It doesn’t consider the money lost by closure of small businesses and shops due to inaccessibility. Even after construction, usually the space below is cordoned off, and basically left useless. Why not rather have an on-the-ground train? Oh wait, Bangalore had it! The government simply didn’t want to use an existing rail system. In fact the Bangalore CM says he will take ‘legal actions’ against those who oppose elevated corridors.

Maintenance of elevated metro too is higher, since weather plays a major role in it. Underground metro on the other hand is easier to keep clean. Dust and other environmental factors have very low effect. Underground tunnels can be scaled easily. There is effectively an infinite real estate underground. There can be multiple connections made at different depths. Look at what the Boring Company is doing. Then there is the noise! The noise of an elevated train is enormous. Completely lowering the quality of life for the people living next to it. However, the biggest price is paid by the openness of the city, its walkability, its visual appeal and thus, its architecture. Today’s post is about that.

Photo by Faruk Kaymak on Unsplash

Historically, a city was built around a water body — first rivers for transport, then lakes for water supply. Moving forward to times when early instances of plumbing or ground water bores were in place, settlements started circumnavigating areas of social gathering. In the context of India, that may be a temple, theatre, or even just a really old tree. (People back in the day understood the importance of, and respected trees.)

Since transport was always an issue, cities had a centre. The place where everything is available. And it was walkable. Everything was thus — user friendly. Cities were built by people for people.

There is this fantastic TED talk on walkability and how to do it.

Each building was built for a particular function and thus was unique by default. Many epochs and many revolutions later, here we are. Post modern architecture devoid of purpose. Rather the purpose is to be devoid of purpose. Transient emotionless rectangular blocks for temporary human settlement.

Post modern architecture appears as being devoid of purpose. Rather the purpose is to be devoid of purpose. Transient emotionless rectangular blocks for temporary human settlement.

View from the metro before MG Road

I had posted a clip of the Bangalore skyline from the Metro Train on my Instagram that you see on the left. I was asking on how people felt looking at the video. I think I may be the first one to associate Bangalore with the word ‘skyline’.

Most of the replies I got for this story were about how ‘barren’ the place looks, how unappealing, no trees, and ironically — how lifeless and inhuman. Not a fan of the irony? Let me point out that there are insane amount of humans living in this very 3 second clip. But still inhuman. Why? Urban slums?

Lack of trees is clearly the top reason for this barren and lifeless feeling. In fact, Bangalore is ready to forgo even more trees to give way to these elevated corridors. With crazy concretisation, and such rampant deforestation, no one can save Bangalore with it already facing day 0 and no water in sight. City unable to provide drinking water, people using RO purifiers waste 4 litres of water to get 1 litre of drinking water. It is high time the city prioritises the things that are important for a sustainable city. Or just agree that Bangalore is a cash cow and will be milked till her death. Bit harsh? Reality is harsh.

Next is open spaces between buildings. A central characteristic of Bangalore buildings is how if you open your window, it literally touches the adjoining building. Or worse, their toilet. There should be walkways around every building. Period. The above gif from the metro demonstrates what happens when all buildings are built next to each other or even sharing a common wall. I couldn’t lookup the rules for building on a plot of land in Bangalore, however, even if there is a rule to keep space between buildings, they are flouted left and right. This results in keeping windows closed, thus reducing light entering in and thus increasing depression and decreasing happiness. There is a really nice video that demonstrates how we’re sliding down the path of depression because of such closed houses. This trend of stacked up buildings clearly demonstrate that the sole intent of these buildings is to open up for rent. Thus little to no attention is paid on any human factors and pleasures. Staircases are outside the buildings and are barely 2 feet wide. All this directly results in dropping down the likability of that place and it sure is important to like the place that you live in, cannot stress that fact more.

Photo by Carlos Navas on Unsplash

Green walkways and parks with water fountains. A look at open sky is of utmost importance psychologically and gives everyone a ray of hope, literally and metaphorically. Thus, this human, who’s mind’s reach is entangled in the floating power lines and ugly concrete constructions will ultimately look down at the whole mess that is on the ground and be perennially discontent. They cease to aspire joy in life. They would then project this discontent outwards thereby leaving the city in a state of distress. People earning over a lakh rupees per month, but bargaining for five over a poor local hawker over coriander and chillies. Why don’t we bargain at More or Reliance Fresh? Because the experience is different. We are taken out of the pothole-ridden noisy streets and are calm for two minutes inside an air conditioned room towards brightly lit shelvings. Even the enormous tech parks have gotten many things right. Their walkways, parkings, trees, outdoor sitting places and so on. Why do things get better experience when they are private? Is the entire city not worth getting the same experience as a private tech park?

The earlier point about human settlement developing around a cultural centre has changed in Bangalore. Construction has literally paved the way for the movement of people. The maximum utilisation of the plots of lands I talked about exhibit this. These rectangular plots are then rotated by a few degrees one after the other thus shaping the roads that lead to them. The roads that exists now, are a result of the leftovers of narrow pathways that the trucks used during construction of these very buildings. And most of them are inches away from housing and intersect each other at right angles, again causing discontent among people. Bikers riding on footpaths and hawkers on road, cars forming a Tetris game and buses invisible.

You see how city planning and architecture is affecting you day in and day out?

Almost worldwide, one way of metro construction is to keep it underground in old city centre, where not much can/should be changed, and bring over ground in the outskirts where there is space and things can be planned better. But Bangalore does have some portions underground I hear you say? Yes, and the problem is just that. What the proud Bangaloreans consider as Bangalore, just isn’t Bangalore anymore. Majority of the population lives outside of these ‘lovely Bangalore’ areas. Perhaps majority of the population have never even been to this ‘Beautiful Bangalore’. So what are you still so proud of? The time is long gone that one could talk about Bangalore as Malleshwaram or Sadashivnagar. Like it or not, Bangalore has become much more than that. Perhaps that is the reason why the rest of Bangalore that is built in such a hurry to support the migratory masses is often neglected. They are left as what they look like — transient emotionless rectangular blocks for temporary human settlement.

If people are living such a transient life, they will never care for the city that gives them their bread. They will continue to spit, throw garbage, honk incessantly, and drive recklessly.

Hey you!

Why are you rushing, and switching lanes so often?

Where do you wanna go so badly, da?

What? You wanna go to work, earn money, and go back home?

Back Home?

I gather you aren’t talking about Bengaluru.

Why don’t you consider Bengaluru your home? You’ve been here bloody 10 years!

It is the responsibility of a city to make its citizens inculcate the care for it. Unless the city incorporates people in its design, unless the people can let their eyes and minds freely wander, unless the people can appreciate small joys in life, sound of the water fountain, the colours of the butterflies, the chirping of birds, the orange dusk, the foggy dawn, you cannot expect them to be content with the place, ergo, help the place become better.

And while at that, stop being proud of Bangalore weather too. Its not your accomplishment. And look outside, its not amazing anymore.

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Aditya Aserkar

Aditya Aserkar

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Procrastinator by profession, facetious by talk. Traveller, wanderer. Musician, writer. Engineer, Designer. Not in that order. www.adityaaserkar.in